Survey finds 40 percent of colleges not investigating sexual assaults

BY Kyla Calvert  July 9, 2014 at 2:19 PM EST
Photo by Flickr user JackY F

Photo by Flickr user JackY F

Over 40 percent of colleges and universities represented in a national survey released by Sen. Claire McCaskill Wednesday have not conducted a single investigation into incidents of sexual assault in the last five years.

That does not mean those campuses were free of sexual violence, according to McCaskill (D-Missouri). “It means they’re either in denial or incompetent,” she said.

Wednesday’s report was drawn from the responses of 236 college presidents at private nonprofit, public and for-profit schools across the country. Separate surveys were conducted of the country’s 50 largest public universities and 40 largest private, nonprofit campuses. McCaskill devised the survey following an April report from the White House on campus sexual assault.

In the larger national survey, 11 percent of schools did not employ a Title IX coordinator. A coordinator is one of the basic requirements for complying with Title IX, the federal regulations that dictate how campuses handle reports of sexual assault.

While the law requires campuses to investigate each reported incident of sexual assault, 20 percent of schools surveyed conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents reported on their campuses. School investigations can lead to hearings, which determine whether and how to discipline an accused perpetrator. But, on 30 percent of campuses, the staff who hold those hearings are not adequately trained.

On 20 percent of campuses, athletics departments take over that hearing process when the accused is an athlete. On 31 percent of campuses, students get no training on how to prevent or report sexual assault and on 30 percent, school law enforcement staff are not trained in how to respond when an assault is reported.

McCaskill said that these shortcomings and others identified in the report can be the result of complex and overlapping regulations governing the response to campus sexual assault, administrators not prioritizing the issue and insufficient funding to comply with federal law or follow best practices.

“But it doesn’t take a lot to sit down with the local prosecutor, the chief of police on campus and devise a protocol [for working together], or to make sure everyone can report online,” she said, referring to steps she wants to see colleges and universities take.

Universities and colleges want to take those steps, said Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education. During an interview with the NewsHour, she said those changes just aren’t as simple as McCaskill makes them out to be.

“[A university] and local law enforcement are two very different kinds of organizations. And they have to sit down and work to come to an understanding of how they can work together given their different missions. That takes time,” Meloy said.

The survey doesn’t recognize the improvements universities and colleges are making on these issues, Meloy said. Nor does it recognize that schools are not equipped to act as courts when it comes to disciplining accused perpetrators while recognizing their rights.

“There are more lawsuits filed by the accused against institutions than there are by alleged victims,” she said.

The American Council on Education is also advocating for improvements, including research into effective training for staff and students and clarification of how to follow existing federal regulations.

The survey results and round table discussions held by McCaskill earlier this year will serve as the basis for legislation the senator plans to introduce in late August or early September.